The top of John Wurster’s resume reads “drummer and comedy writer.” How did he end up with two of the coolest jobs on the planet?
Luck and very supportive parents, he tells me from a café in Billings, Montana, where the band he’s currently drumming for, The Mountain Goats, are scheduled to play a show later that same evening. As far as Wurster’s comedy work — the internet radio call-in program and podcast The Best Show with Tom Sharpling, for example — he simply snuck in the back door.
“I never really had any aspirations,” Wurster says.
On top of these dreamy day jobs, Wurster has also worked with some of the greatest songwriters of his generation. Whether that’s with his band Superchunk, or with Bob Mould, Ben Gibbard, Robert Pollard, Jay Farrar and John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats. There are more names where those names came from. Is this also dumb luck, or does Wurster just know how to pick ’em?
“My favorite music is real melodic kind of singer-songwriter stuff. I’m lucky to have met a lot of those people and gotten to play drums with them. I’m very much into being a supporting player,” he says.
The role of supporting player is particularly important when playing for The Mountain Goats, who come to Eugene behind their latest release, In League with Dragons. “The Mountain Goats are so lyric-driven. As the drummer, you don’t want to get in the way,” he says.
Since arriving with his super lo-fi bedroom recordings, with Mountain Goats bandleader songwriter and John Darnielle’s yapping voice accompanied by rudimentary acoustic guitar, The Mountain Goats have always been about the songwriting.
Darnielle’s little short stories in song form go one of two directions: deeply personal and darkly funny, or increasingly preoccupied by Darnielle’s favorite subjects like Dungeons & Dragons, Steely Dan, professional wrestling and heavy metal music, to name only a few. Darnielle is also the author of two novels.
The closest thing to a hit song the Goats have ever had is probably “No Children,” an acoustic anti-love sing-a-long in which Darnielle exclaims: “I hope I lie and tell everyone you were a good wife, And I hope you die, I hope we both die.”
Over the years, Darnielle’s song demo process has evolved, as the song arrangements become have more fully realized than those early recordings, Wurster says.
“He’ll have the song first, he’ll come up a beat and that’ll give us all an idea of what he’s looking for. We just kind of take it from there. Then the song will evolve. Where the songs ends on the record is not identical to the demo,” but it always ends up sounding like The Mountain Goats, he says.
The songs on In League with Dragons might be the best blend so far of John Darnielle’s split songwriting personality, with songs like “Cadaver Sniffing Dog,” and “Clemency for the Wizard King.” There are some missteps, the countrified “Waylon Jennings Live!” for one, but if a song taking you inside a murder scene in grisly detail isn’t for you, then neither are The Mountain Goats, and that’s just the way John Darnielle seems to like it.
The Mountain Goats play with Lydia Loveless 8 pm Saturday, Sept. 7, at McDonald Theatre; $26 advance, $31 door; all-ages.